One of the premier electric bassists of contemporary jazz, Mark Egan has distinguished himself over the past 30 years as an in-demand session player, valued sideman, prolific composer and respected leader in his own right. His distinctive fretless bass sound has graced countless jazz and pop albums as well as award-winning movie and television soundtracks.
A charter member of the Pat Metheny Group, he has played on multi-platinum-selling recordings by Sting, Arcadia and Joan Osborne and has also recorded with a wide variety of artists from pop stars like Roger Daltry, Sophie B. Hawkins, Marianne Faithfull, Judy Collins, Cyndi Lauper and Art Garfunkel to jazz notables like David Sanborn, John McLaughlin, Gato Barbieri, Freddy Cole, Jim Hall, Mark Murphy and Larry Coryell. A member of the Gil Evans Orchestra for 13 years, Egan has also racked up seven albums as a leader and ten as a co-leader of Elements, the band he formed in 1982 with his Pat Metheny Group bandmate, drummer Danny Gottlieb.
On Truth Be Told, his latest release on his own Wavetone Records label, Egan reunites with longtime colleagues Mitch Forman (keyboards) Bill Evans (saxophones) and Roger Squitero (Perdussion). “Mitch is one of the first players that I met when I came to New York in 1976,” says Mark. “He later played on my solo debut, Mosaic, in ’85. And Bill and I have a longstanding history that goes back to loft sessions in 1981 and shortly thereafter to the first Elements recording.” This powerhouse quartet project is fueled by drummer extraordinaire Vinnie Colaiuta, who brings his considerable chops to bear on funk-fusion offerings like “Gargoyle,” “Café Risque,” the uptempo burner “Rhyme or Reason,” the hard-hitting Mahavishnu flavored “Pepe” and the slamming title track. “I have played with Vinnie more recently,” says Egan. “We played a Weather Report tribute at the Iridium jazz club in New York and we also both played on Bill Evans’ Soulgrass record in 2006. I was always a real fan of his playing, from his work with Frank Zappa to recordings he made with Joni Mitchell, Sting, Steely Dan, Chick Corea and John McLaughlin. “I was lucky to be able to find a window to be able to record him because he’s so busy these days with everyone from Herbie Hancock to the Corea/McLaughlin Five Peace Band to Jeff Beck. We hit it off great in the studio and the music came together really well and very quickly. We recorded for three days at Avatar Studios in New York without any rehearsals beforehand. I had sent rough demos and sheet music to everyone and we pretty much just played it down a few times in the studio, found our way, then took just a few takes per song. It was a very intense process as well as a lot of fun.”
As followup to 2006’s As We Speak, his intimate and highly interactive trio outing with drummer Gottlieb and jazz guitar great John Abercrombie, Truth Be Told highlights an aspect of Egan’s prodigious musicality that doesn’t always come out on his own records. As he says, “When I first came to New York I was the original bass player in the 24th Street Band, which had Steve Jordan on drums, Hiram Bullock on guitar and Clifford Carter on keyboards. We were into progressive groove playing with this band. Before I joined the Pat Metheny Group I was playing mostly R&B in New York both live in clubs as well as in the studios. I wasn’t focused on playing fretless bass and was heavily influenced by groups such as Weather Report, Miles Davis, The Brecker Brothers, David Sanborn, Stuff and everything that was happening in the mid ‘70s in New York. I had just come from the University of Miami, where I studied with Jaco Pastorius, who introduced me to great groove bass players like Bernard Odom with Maceo and the Kings Men, Bootsy Collins with James Brown and James Jamerson, who was the bassist for most of the Motown recordings. So that’s a big part of my background, though some people wouldn’t know it because I’ve been featured so much on more melodic, fretless stylings since my having played with the Pat Metheny Group.”
While Truth Be Told may be a kind of return to progressive groove playing for Egan, he adds that he had another motivation for wanting to deal more in funk and fusion on this outing. “Knowing the potential of having Vinnie on the session, I wanted to record more groove-oriented music. So I wrote with him in mind, creating some rhythmic vamps at the end of certain pieces that Vinnie could really stretch over. And he just killed it!” Indeed, Colaiuta unleashes at the tag of the urgent jamming vehicle “Blue Launch” and also on the powerhouse “Rhyme or Reason,” which features an incendiary tenor sax-drums breakdown with Bill Evans that elevates the track. Elsewhere, Colaiuta ignites the hard-hitting, odd-metered “Pepe” with his highly charged drumming, slams with authority on the funky title track and expertly grooves the soulful Stuff-influenced opener “Frog Legs” as well as the highly syncopated “Café Risque.” Egan adds, “I also wanted to make sure I had a lot of stretching room in these compositions for Bill and Mitch, who are both such great soloists, while also leaving room for my bass solos and groove interplay.” He succeeds on all counts, creating music that is brimming with challenging, tightly executed heads yet full of urgent, free blowing solos. Evans distinguishes himself throughout with typically bracing solos on both tenor and soprano saxophones while Forman deftly alternates between piano, Fender Rhodes and synths to provide a myriad of colors, textures and thoughtful orchestrations, along with some heated solos of his own. Egan grooves mightily throughout on fretted bass while his distinctive fretless resounds with singing tones on the soothing, Elements styled “See Saw,” the romantic Mitch Forman ballad “Shadow Play,” the lyrical “Blue Rain” and the introspective, Indian flavored closer, “After Thought.”
“The overall tone of this quartet record is coming more from a progressive groove and improvisational point of view,” says Egan. “There’s a much more aggressive attitude here and we're ‘going for it’. I didn’t want to put any limitations on this project at all because all of the players in their own right are incredibly talented soloists and leaders. I just wanted to let Bill, Vinnie and Mitch go play and let the pieces fall where they may.” And they wail with impunity on this killer outing, the latest triumph in the ever-evolving career of the prodigious bassist-composer. Born on January 14, 1951 in Brockton, Massachusetts, Egan began his musical studies on the trumpet at the age of 10, mainly through the influence of his father, an avid player. He continued to play the trumpet through high school in jazz bands, R&B groups, high school orchestras and switched to bass at age 16. In 1969, Egan enrolled in the University of Miami School of Music under the direction of Jerry Coker and also studied privately with the late, great Jaco Pastorius, whose influence remains with him to this day. “When I heard Jaco play it made me aware of the potential of the electric bass, particularly with regard to grooving and soloing. Jaco inspired another way of thinking about the bass and music.” While in Florida, Mark formed a band with fellow University of Miami students Clifford Carter (keyboards), Hiram Bullock (guitar), Billy Bowker (drums) and Phyllis Hyman (vocals). They came to New York in 1976 and soon afterward Mark toured with the Pointer Sisters, Deodato and David Sanborn. In 1977, he hooked up with another U of M schoolmate, guitarist Pat Metheny, and for the next four years toured and recorded with the Grammy award winning Pat Metheny Group, which also featured keyboardist Lyle Mays and drummer Danny Gottlieb. Egan subsequently worked with Flora and Airto, Carly Simon, Stan Getz and Jim Hall before forming the group Elements in 1982 with Gottlieb, saxophonist Bill Evans and keyboardist Clifford Carter. Nearly 28 years later, Elements remains one of the most potent and highly acclaimed contemporary jazz groups in the world with eight recordings to its credit, having racked up endless roadwork in over 27 countries. Their uncompromising live sound continues to be on the forefront of the jazz music scene.
While Egan continues to work with Elements, his solo projects represent a more personal side of his musical makeup. Mark’s 1985 solo debut, Mosaic (Windham Hill Records) delved into adventurous territory on his exotic custom-made eight and ten string basses on which he rendered beautiful soundscapes over multi-layered musical textures. His followup, 1988’s Touch of Light (GRP Records), displayed another facet of his creativity in which he pushed the envelope in more aggressive, upbeat fashion alongside his Elements mates Gottlieb, Carter and Evans. In 1993, Mark signed with Bluemoon Records and released the highly anticipated album Beyond Words, which again featured Gottlieb, Carter and Evans along with the famed Brazilian guitarist Toninho Horta, whose sensuous bossa nova style and melodic compositions would take the music in a new direction. Egan’s passion and visionary approach to contemporary instrumental music led to the creation of his independent record label, Wavetone Records, which he formed in 1992. Dedicated to providing an outlet for creative music projects, Wavetone has released several recordings to critical acclaim, including Elements’ Far East Volume I and II, Elements’ Untold Stories, Joe Beck’s Finger Painting, Jeff Ciampa’s Signs of Life and House of Mirrors, the Jeff Laibson/Mark Egan/Danny Gottlieb project Trio along with Egan’s 2001 outing Freedom Town, his 2006 followup As We Speak and reissues of his 1985 landmark, Mosaic, as well as the Brazilian influenced Beyond Words. In addition, Mark has realized his dream with the completion of is own state-of-the-art recording studio, Electric Fields. Designed by the highly acclaimed acoustical architect John Storyk, Electric Fields is equipped with a state of the art digital recording system and an array of vintage sound processing gear. Mark continues to explore new sound territories through his extraordinary recording, composing and touring activities. His successful efforts as a musician, composer and producer keep him on the forefront of the contemporary music scene.